Reviewed by Herb Levy

HERO: IMMORTAL KING (Asmodee Editions LLC, 1-2 players, ages 9 and up, 30 minutes; $22.99 each)


Once upon a time, the dungeon crawl was king of fantasy game playing. Exploring the depths of dungeons brought gamers face to face with monsters, necromancers and all sorts of nefarious creatures ready to stand between them and their quest for gold and glory. Tapping into that setting comes Hero:Immortal King, which is actually a game system designed by Emmanuel Beltrando comprised of THREE individual and separately sold games: The Lair of the Lich, The Den of Dementia and The Infernal Forge.heroimmortalking

Each individual game comes packaged in a slim video-cassette sized box and contains the same basic components: 60 cards (divided into adventurers, equipment, dungeon cards and a “Final Monster”), a regular six-sided die and either an eight/ten/12-sided die, and 28 tokens. The individual game can be played solo but works best as a two player adventure with one player (our “hero”) commanding the adventuring party while his opponent is the Dungeon Master who controls the denizens of the dungeon. And, because we’re dealing with a game system here, you can COMBINE decks using any or all of the three games.

At the beginning of the adventure, the “heroic” player constructs an adventure party. The total number of cards used in this party equals five and may divided in any way with a party consisting of from 1 to 4 “adventurers” with the remaining total used for equipment cards. Adventurer cards display the name of the character and his class (fighter, priest, thief or sorcerer), gender, a permanent skill which the character may always use as well as a temporary power (activated by using “mana”) plus an “ultimate power”. Equipment cards display their name and power and what the costs to use it. There are three types of equipment: potion (generally good for a one time use), object (armor, specific weaponry etc.) and quest (powerful cards that may be triggered by playing the required number and colors of captured dungeon cards). Meanwhile, the DM constructs the dungeon that awaits.herokingcard

Dungeon cards come in four colors (green, yellow, blue and red) and carry six bits of information: name, type, family (demons, undead, dragons, Greenskins, bubbleyes and traps), strength, any special abilities and, sometimes, a mana icon. The “Final Monster” is the most powerful and its card displays its name, family, strength and special ability. Not all types of dungeons cards appear in each game. (For example, there are no traps in Lair of the Lich; no bubbleyes in Den of Demntia.) The 48 dungeon cards are shuffled and three even piles are created to represent the three corridors of the dungeon. (The final and most powerful monster in the dungeon remains in front of the DM ready to strike if the adventurers make it that far.) The DM begins with a stash of black “fear” tokens, one for each member of the adventuring party. The DM also gets 1 fear token each time the heroes lose an encounter AND when the heroes roll a 1 on the die. Fear tokens are useful in making life for the heroes more difficult. At the cost of 1 fear token, a newly drawn dungeon card is kept face down as an “ambush” for unwary heroes. The play of 2 fear tokens adds a yellow “tenacity” token to a monster giving him +1 strength. And, for 3 tokens, the DM can force the heroes to re-roll a combat die. The adventuring party takes 5 red courage tokens and places one blue mana token on each of his character cards. Now, the top cards of each of the three corridors are revealed and the party begins their exploration.

Each game turn consists of four phases. First, the DM can secretly examine the top card of each stack and MAY exchange two whole stacks if he so desires. Now, the hero can play items or quests or ultimate powers available to him by spending the correct amount and color of captured dungeon cards. Now, the hero chooses ONE of the three available cards (if a card is face down in an “ambush”, that card is now revealed) and combat occurs. The requisite die is rolled with modifiers due to power or played tokens applied. If the final result is equal to or greater than the monster encountered, the adventurers have won. As a reward, that dungeon card is collected as a valuable “trophy”, valuable because, as mentioned, these cards serve as a sort of “currency” to be later used to pay for equipment or to use ultimate powers. If the card defeated has a mana icon, an additional benefit is a mana token placed on the card of one of the members of the party. The next dungeon card in the stack is now revealed and the quest continues. However, should the result be less than the monster’s value, the party loses 1 courage token and the DM earns 1 fear token. The dungeon card stays in place for the adventurers to encounter again or avoid by choosing a different path.

Rounds continue until one of two things happen. If one stack is totally depleted thereby allowing the party to confront the final monster and the heroes manage to defeat that monster in combat and still have at least 1 courage token left, the adventuring party has been victorious! Alternatively, should the adventurers run out of courage tokens at any point in this exploration, the dungeon denizens (and the DM) have thwarted the adventuring party and may now claim victory for themselves.

The “tug of war” between fear tokens and courage tokens gives players a running count of who is winning and who is losing. Collecting dungeon cards (and those with mana icons) in order to power quests and command other advantages for the adventurers creates some choices for the adventuring party as to which monsters to encounter. Throughout the game, the dominant means of combat resolution is die rolls + modifiers and I can understand wanting to do something different rather than the incessant dice rolling. This leads to one of the oddities of the game. The designer, in some cases, has found the solution in substituting “rock/paper/scissors” instead of a die roll, a less than inspired approach that seems out of place in the world created by the game system. Another – and more satisfying – method of combat resolution could have been used to better effect. And one final observation. What’s important in the game is the abilities of the adventurers and monsters encountered. So why in a deck of normal sized cards is 50 to 90% of the card surface taken up with artwork while the vital game information is printed in tiny type at the bottom of the card? This, despite the fact that there is plenty of room for using a larger typeface! This detracts from the ease of play. Any advantage for this graphic design escapes me. If you insist upon such small printing, perhaps a magnifier should be included in the box.

The use of card stacks/corridors in Hero: Immortal King simulates following a path through a mysterious dungeon nicely. Players can gauge their progress towards the final monster that awaits as stacks grow smaller. The encounters themselves provide a decent variety of monsters offering varying obstacles to the adventurers while each game in the series provides scenarios in increasing difficulty in order to mitigate a certain “sameness” that might occur after multiple playings. A significant strength of the game system lies in its ability to allow you to COMBINE decks from the games. This deck building aspect opens up the possible configurations of encounters, keeping the gameplay fresh and challenging helping to make Hero: Immortal King a simple but satisfying return to the days of the dungeon crawl. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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